A Pixhawk-powered hexacopter had an encounter with an overzealous and somewhat paranoid neighbor.
That day, Eric Joe skipped Black Friday lines and instead went home to visit his parents. During the afternoon, Joe flew what he described to Ars as a homemade hexacopter drone. His aerial device hovered low and moved slow, logging just three and a half minutes of flight time in total.
Then, bang. A loud boom rang out over the neighboring walnut trees. Growing up on a farm, Joe instantly recognized the sound as a 12-gauge shotgun. The unknown shooter hit his apparent target in a single attempt, and Joe soon watched his drone fall from the sky.
“When I went out to go find it, I saw him come out shotgun-in-hand,” Joe told Ars by phone on Thursday. The man found himself face-to-face with his parents’ neighbor, Brett McBay.
“I asked: ‘Did you shoot that thing?’ He said, ‘Yeah, did we get it?’”
Joe claimed that McBay said: “I thought it was a CIA surveillance device.” No matter the reason, the drone pilot wanted to resolve this encounter quickly and civilly (“I didn’t want to get argumentative with a guy with a shotgun,” Joe said). He went back inside and inspected the aircraft. It wouldn’t be flying again. Later that evening, the two men exchanged e-mails.
Joe started the conversation:
It was nice to meet you and your son. I wish it could have been under different circumstances, but I have to give credit to the McBay school of marksmanship. Still, I’m pretty bummed that I just built this hexacopter only to have it shot down. Also, it was a little disconcerting to know that the spread of the birdshot/buckshot was in my direction. In any case, I had a chance to test the components of the downed hexacopter. Good news is that the more expensive components (on the inside of the frame) are in tact. Stuff on the outside of the frame took the most damage.
Joe included an itemized list of the damaged parts, which rounded up to an even $700.
With all do [sic] respect $700 dollars seems excessive. Perhaps in SF it’s normal for folks to have drones hovering over their property but we live in the country for privacy. I will be willing to split the cost with you but next time let us know your testing surveillance equipment in our area. I’ll drop a check of [sic] this afternoon.
Joe wrote back:
I’m sorry, but I must insist on full payment for equipment you damaged, as you shot it when it was above my property. The aircraft’s GPS data positions it clearly above our orchard. Additionally, the hexacopter crashed next to our driveway, ~203 feet (per Google Maps) from the dirt road that separates our respective properties.
I also dispute your characterization that I was “testing surveillance equipment.” There was no camera on the hexacopter, and had a camera been mounted, the price for repairs would have been an extra $300. Just as you asked me to give the courtesy of notifying you of my flying activities, I also ask you the courtesy of not shooting live ammunition in our direction. This is the third time discharge from your firearms has hit our house and property. The first incident left a bullet hole in the door by our garage. The second incident occurred last Thanksgiving when birdshot from your skeet shooting activities rained into our backyard. The third, of course, being what we’re currently discussing.
I’m hoping to resolve this in a civil manner. An entirely new rig would have cost $1500. Instead, I’m just asking that you pay for what you broke. Let me know if you wish to discuss further.
Three minutes later, McBay replied. “Your facts are incorrect, I’m considering the matter now closed.”
Joe disagreed. In early 2015, he filed a case in a Stanislaus County small claims court. Late last month, the court found in his favor.
“Court finds that Mr. McBay acted unreasonably in having his son shoot the drone down regardless of whether it was over his property or not,” the Stanislaus County Court Small Claims Division found.
Joe won $850, but McBay has yet to pay. If McBay does not pay by the end of the month, Joe and his attorney told Ars that they will pursue further legal action to collect the money.
“We don’t believe that the drone was over McBay’s property—we maintain that it was briefly over the shared county access road,” said Jesse Woo, Joe’s cousin and attorney. “But even if it did, you’re only privileged to use reasonable force in defense of property. Shooting a shotgun at this thing that isn’t threatening your property isn’t reasonable.”
McBay did not respond to Ars’ repeated attempts to reach him by e-mail, phone, and text message.